the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Kino on Video presents

Jan Svankmajer: The Ossuary and Other Tales (1964-1989)

"Unless we again begin to tell fairy tales and ghost stories before going to sleep and recounting our dreams upon waking, nothing more is to be expected of our Western civilization."- liner notes from Jan Svankmajer

Director: Jan Svankmajer

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:05m:19s
Release Date: 2006-09-12
Genre: compilation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB-B- D-


DVD Review

This is the second DVD collection of short films from self-professed "Surreal Militant" Jan Svankmajer, a Czech filmmaker/animator/puppeteer/sculptor/poet/director who worked the storytelling darkside pretty hard, with a library of inventive titles that—according to history—inspired the likes of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam. And that artistic influence is vividly apparent in this new collection, a set of nine short films spanning Svankmajer's work from the years 1964 to 1989. Boy, what a mesmerizingly weird journey this is.

And just as a word of warning, Svankmajer's works are bad dream strange, an unpredictable array of crazy visuals that ripple with textures that Burton and Gilliam would eventually borrow and build upon in their unique way. That's the underlying leftover here, a largely unknown-to-the-mainstream Czech filmmaker who was concocting his own personal journey of the disjointed through a diverse set of shorts. The first, 1964's The Last Trick, with two humans wearing oversized puppet heads locked in a sort of "dueling banjos" give-and-take, could easily have come from someone like avant-hipster-weirdos The Residents, and that is just a sliver of how timelessly relevant Svankmajer's work remains.

If I really tried to accurately describe the goings-on here, you'd either think me goofy or lacking in the finer points of the explanatory arts. The reality is, the less said the better, as the places Svankmajer goes are better fdiscovered on one's own.

The true art of weird made well is that it really isn't under any time period constraints, and a filmmaker like Svankmajer proudly avoids anything approaching predictability. There's stop-motion, live action, pseudo-documentaries, semi-history, puppetry, and a mixture of all of the above, so that this particular collection moves all over the map with a disturbingly off-balance center, which is what gives his films that vaguely nightmarish veneer. In short, weird.

The nine short films in this collection are:

The Last Trick (1964)
Don Juan (1970)
The Garden (1968)
Historia Naturae (1967)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1965)
The Ossuary (1970)
The Otrants Castle (1973-1979)
Darkness Light Darkness (1989)
Manly Games (1988)

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The nine Svankmajer shorts are a mixture of full-frame and nonanamorphic widescreen images, and they are also a blend of color, and black and white. The transfers show their age, especially the older films, with muted, faded colors, though the very off palette in 1964's The Last Trick only adds to the disturbing, surreal imagery, if you ask me. Some age-related grain is dominant, as are some minor print damage and debris on some of the shorts.

Considering their age, it's a wonder these look as presentable as they do.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: As with the image side of things, the mono audio has its moments of age-related imperfections, primarily bouts of crackle and hiss. Dialogue, when used, is in its original Czech, with optional English subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only extras are the text-based Svankmajer: A Biographical Sketch (a few screens of info) and a filmography. The disc is cut into 9 chapters, one per film.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

think I know weird, and this is most definitely weird. Cool weird, but weird nonetheless.

Rich Rosell 2006-09-12